The MMORPG genre has changed and shifted, and while PC gaming is still quite strong, consoles are where a lot of developer focus is right now, due to both revenue potential and greater DRM. The Elder Scrolls Online has a UI and control scheme that will be familiar to Skyrim players (and one that irks some MMO players/PC gamers – including myself), so it will feel comfortable. In fact, should the game rise up and gain a good foothold on consoles, it could very well wind up being the game that seals the MMO's future on consoles.
Now, PC gamers, don't panic, but there are certain genres that just haven't worked that well on console, for the most part. The MMO and the RTS come to mind. Now that MMO devs have made more console-friendly control schemes (or the ability to remap or use USB peripherals and the like), there's another audience out there that can be reached. Once again, the word “risk” comes to mind, but with both ESO and FFXIV set to hit consoles, and a few successes like DCUO and FFXI, it just might be time for the MMORPG genre to tip on those platforms.
If The Elder Scrolls Online converts just 10% of people that bought Skyrim into subscribers of ESO across platforms that will be two million players. If many more buy the game initially, but don't sub after the free month is up, that could still be a good return on investment. It's a risk, but apparently it's one worth taking for the studio, even knowing that the sub fee and M rating could limit the audience.
Maybe we are in a free to play, buy to play market overall, but there's a lot to gain in having this subscription. MMORPGs have always been a risk, and while many of those that love the genre have been around for 10-15 years, many have not. Still, the investment of both money and labor in creating an MMO, especially one of this size and scope, is not small on either side. Yes, the market has shifted to some degree, but some studios are standing behind a message of “we believe what we're providing you is worth the fee”. As someone that has played a mix of sub games, buy to play, and free to play games, it's almost sad that having almost everything open to the player without gated restrictions you can lift for just 900 gold/coins/$9.99 account unlocks is so rare today. Oh, I've played games where I got 20 levels before tossing down some dollars in shop credit. I think it is worth supporting games you like if you're able. What I love about F2P/B2P games is as long as the game is running, it doesn't matter if you're busy one week, you're not losing sub time. There are pros and cons to all funding models.
Yet the risks that Zenimax is taking are big ones, and ESO could very well wind up leaving some people cold, but should the game be successful, we may be looking at an even larger audience for MMORPGs in the future, as well as more options for those who prefer all-inclusive gaming. A watchful eye on this game is wise advice.
Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column. You will also find her contributions at RTSGuru. Follow her on Twitter: @c_gonzalez